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POSTSCRIPT – We stop the press to announce the melancholy intelligence of the loss of the Waterloo, on Sunday, the 28th August, at Table Bay, Cape of Good Hope. By this fearful event 189 human beings were hurried into eternity, 143 of whom were prisoners, the rest were soldiers, women, and children. Seventy-six prisoners were saved, who will come on by the Cape Packet, chartered for that purpose. Dr. Kelsale, surgeon of the Waterloo, was saved by a prisoner, whose irons he had just ordered to he struck off. The Abercrombie Robinson, with 700 men of the 91st regiment on board, was also a total wreck, but happily on this case no lives were lost. The Marquis of Hastings, just arrived, has brought on the news and the despatches by the Waterloo, all the other papers and goods were entirely lost. — Hobart Town Advertiser Nov. 8.
Colonial Times, 8 November 1842
THE Marquis of Hastings, from England the 19th July, with male prisoners, arrived on Tuesday. By this ship we have the distressing information of the wreck of the Waterloo in Table Bay on the 28th August. The loss of human life was terrible, 189 men, women (soldiers’ wives), and children, unhappily perished; of these, 144 were prisoners. To the courage and good feeling of one of them, the Surgeon, Dr. Kelsall, is indebted for his life. The prisoner carried the Doctor through the surf to the shore at the imminent danger of his own life. The remainder of the prisoners were to be forwarded here by the Cape Packet. By this calamity the mail, said to be on board the Waterloo up to the last week in June, is lost. The despatches were saved. It is surely a remissness on the- part of; the Post-office that the mails are not secured in some fixed part of every ship where they can be as readily at hand as the despatches.
The Austral-Asiatic Review, 11 November 1842
The troop carrier Abercrombie Robinson and the convict ship Waterloo aground in Table Bay on 28 August 1842 (Wikipedia Commons)
By the Marquis of Hastings, we have received Cape papers to the 23rd September. We can only find space for the following extract from the Zuid Afrikaan of the 30th August : — “We have to record the most awful scene which the inhabitants of this town ever witnessed,–the stranding in Table Bay of two ships, the one the Abercrombie Robinson, with troops for Algoa Bay, 522 men, besides women, children, and the crew ; and the other the Waterloo, with convicts, bound to Van Diemen’s Land, and the awful loss of lives.
“On Saturday severe weather set in, and there was every appearance from the state of the Barometer, that severe stress of weather was to be expected. It broke out in the middle of the night with strong rain and a Northerly wind, accompanied by thunder and lightning. At day-break the troop ship had stranded on a sandy beach, near the mouth of Salt River, whilst the Convict Ship was perceived adrift with three cables, till at about 100 yards from shore, and close to a rocky riff, she remained stationary, for upwards of three hours.
“Every assistance was rendered to land the women, children and men from the troop ship, boats were sent from town, and about 1 o’clock, every soul was safe on shore.
“Not so however with the Convict ship containing 219 male convicts, 5 women, 13 children, 33 troops, besides the crew. About 11 o’clock, she struck upon the rocks, and immediately the jib was hoisted to turn her head towards the beach, — but it was too late and after rolling upon the rocks for about 10 or 15 minutes, the main and mizen masts went over, and we perceived the seamen and soldiers together with the women and children clinging fast to the upper side of the ship whilst, the sea was tremendously rolling over it. Some of the men began to throw off their clothes and swim towards shore ; the greater part, however with the women and children were seen stretching forwards their hands for assistance, whilst the noise of the waves and the wind prevented us from hearing the awful cries for help, which they sent forth. As the sea washed over the ship, and broke in upon the deck, we saw the whole number of convicts creeping out, and holding fast to the foremast.
“In this state, whilst every possible assistance on the part of the people was rendered to save the persons who were swimming towards shore and a Malay boat was got, the sea destroyed the ship so rapidly that at 12 o’clock, of the whole vessel of 440 tons, nothing was left but the keel, and of the whole number of persons on board, amounting to upwards of 300, only 98 were saved !
“This awful catastrophe has naturally filled every human heart with painful grief, but at the same time with a deep reflection, at the unaccountable neglect as to precautionary measures. Every one naturally asks, how is it, that whilst the vessel was stationary on the riff, before she struck on the rocks, during a period of three hours, no measures were adopted in some way or other to save or land the people on board ! If this was impossible at the time, how is it then that there were no boats kept in readiness for any exigency that might occur ? Might not a rope have been thrown out to effect a communication with the beach ? These are the questions which it will be the awful duty of some one or other to answer, — satisfactorily, if he can.
“But for the exertions of Messrs. Molteno and Still, not even the assistance of the Malay boat would have been obtained. By her first trip, she brought only two men on shore, and having for the second time reached the vessel and tied a rope to the fore mast, she hauled up on shore again and was superseded by a large boat belonging to Messrs. Sinclair, which was at last brought with much difficulty from the military ship, and used in saving as many lives as was then possible, the vessel having already at that moment gone to pieces.
‘ Most astonishing of all was the absence of any public authority, at the most awful crisis, to interfere or to direct. Everything depended from the voluntary interference of private individuals, sometimes succeeding in obtaining aid, and at times experiencing an unwillingness to assist. ‘ The rapidity with which the vessel went to pieces, and even the keel was broken up is a proof that it must have been a very old one (we hear twenty-seven years.) Strange, therefore, that so great a number of human lives are thus risked on such a Vessel, for so distant a passage as from England to Van Diemen’s Land.
“We have not yet been able to obtain a correct return of the lives saved. They were brought to the Hospital, — where we are told several died, — and such as were convicts have afterwards been placed in the Town Prison.
“Dr. Helsall is amongst the saved.
“A subscription list has yesterday been opened in the Commercial Exchange, for the crew and passengers saved, amongst whom we hear was a woman who saw her husband and children drowning before her eyes, and whose escape was most miraculous.”
Launceston Advertiser, 10 November 1842
Wreck of the Waterloo convict ship, Cape of Good Hope, 28th. August 1842, Charles Hutchins. (Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office)
In reference to the disastrous shipwrecks mentioned in our Inst, the South Africane says:-
The rottenness of the Waterloo‘s timbers – a fact now proved and admitted – which caused the death or murder of one hundred and ninety unfortunate human creatures, before our eyes, a few weeks ago, naturally draws attention to the character and probable sea-worthiness of other vessels chartered, or hired by Government for the transmission of troops or convicts to countries lying to the eastward of the Cape of Good Hope. Taking up, therefore, the last list, dated Jerusalem Coffee House, 22nd June, 1842, we find the following vessels set down for this service, to which we add the year of their first assignment, from Lloyd’s Register, for 1840 – 1 : –
1. Duncan – – – – Not in Lloyd’s List
2. Queen of England – Ditto ditto.
3. Coromandel – – 1834.
4. Wild Irish Girl – – Not in Lloyd’s List.
5. George the Fourth – 1825.
These are for troops. The following are for convicts :
1. The Emily – – – Not in Lloyd’s List.
2. Marquis of Hastings – 1819.
3. The Moffatt – – 1807.
4. The Triton – – – 1805.
Of the Troop Ships not on the List, we know nothing, nor do we know why they are not there. The Emily, not on the List, belongs to the same party as the George the Fourth, which appears on the list at the respectable, age of seventeen years, being London-built, and measuring 1438 tons. She is for troops, and on the list. The Emily is for convicts, and not on the list. This may mean nothing, but it may be noted in the meantime.
The Moffat, also for convicts, has reached the venerable age of thirty-five years ; and the Triton the still more venerable age of thirty-seven years. Now these may be all excellent ships, perfectly sea-worthy and sound, notwithstanding their age. But so was the Waterloo pronounced to be in all respects, when she was taken up by Government for the accommodation of convicts. She was only twenty-seven years old-ten years younger than the Triton-lately doubled, copper-fastened, and placed in the second description or first class ships -yet we and many others pulled her solid timbers to pieces with our fingers, or squeezed balls of them together in the hand as one would a mush-room or a wet sponge.
Fortunately these vessels, if they touch here at all, will make their appearance in fine weather, or at least in the fine weather months. Yet we should lose no time in having our Life Boat and other Humane Apparatus in readiness, and our Boatmen, now experienced Salvors, should hold themselves prepared for sudden calls. If in the finest weather a vessel of the Waterloo class touch the sand or mud, to say nothing of rocks, her doom is sealed ; and unluckily the sides of our Bay seem to have a sort of elective attraction on everything rotten. But how is government, or rather the people of England, to escape imposition in this Branch of the Public Service? Very easily. Confine all tenders for Troops and Convict Ships to Vessels of the first-class, and not exceeding ten years of age.
When vessels with common cargoes go to pieces, the seamen have a chance of escape by their boats, or, by their skill and sailor-like resources. But when a vessel, containing three or four hundred souls, breaks up, the .consequence is a positive massacre. The miserable people are crushed to death by the crumbling ruins, or drowned before it is possible to afford assistance from the shore, however near, as in the case of the Waterloo.
Colonial Times, 15 November 1842
The wreck of the Waterloo, was sold at the Cape of Good Hope on the 2nd September, and realised £680.
Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 1842
Featured image, Conduct Record, William Biggs, Con 33/1/30, image 14